Picks and Pans Review: The Deep End

updated 02/17/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/17/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Chris Crutcher

It is an unsurprising if chilling sign of the limes that the villains at the heart of so many mysteries, from The Silence of the Lambs to Loves Music, Loves to Dance, are not greedy in-laws or vengeful lovers but unfathomable psychotic monsters. In these two books, Kellerman and Crutcher try to fathom them.

Former child psychiatrist Kellerman returns to his highly successful character, the detective-shrink Alex Delaware, for a seventh outing in Private Eyes (Bantam, $21.50). The case this time involves an agoraphobic former actress whose remarkable beauty was forever marred two decades ago, when a man she had briefly dated hired a flunky to throw acid in her face. Later, a rich husband nurtures her through dozens of painful operations, while she is further comforted by their daughter—Alex's initial client. Melissa Dickinson, now grown, calls on Delaware again when her mother's old tormentor is released from prison.

When Mom disappears, the household becomes hysterical, and Alex intensifies his attempts to solve both past and present mysteries through clues of behavior and personality.

In the end, the search is more rewarding than the resolution, which comes in a kind of mad-scientist, B-movie whirl. But Kellerman's pacing remains impeccable and, unlike many private eyes at his stage, Delaware is as fresh and engaging as ever.

There is more angst at work in Crutcher's detective, the child therapist Wilson Corder. But then, The Deep End (Morrow, $19) involves a more routinely brutal world: the child abuse, wife abuse, abandonment and neglect found at a family counseling center. Crutcher, a Spokane, Wash., family counselor, writes with heartwrenching realism about the cases observed by Corder, in a tone both empathetic and matter of fact.

The key case here involves 4-year-old Jerry Parker, so traumatized by the abduction of his sister that he is unable to aid the police.

Soon, Corder's own family is endangered in this multilayered mystery debut, remarkable not only for its frenetic final pages but also for a probing of domestic violence that is never condescending.

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